When I strike a golf ball purely, a sublime thrill surges through my body like nothing else I have ever experienced.
By Bob Marrow
When I strike a golf ball purely, a sublime thrill surges through my body like nothing else I have ever experienced. A close second is when I strike a tennis ball with the effortless power that comes with timing and balance; legs, hips, torso, shoulders, arms, and hands follow one another in a perfect sequence. I want to do it again and again. Needless to say, this experience is rare since I am not a professional athlete and have not spent the 10,000 hours in repetitive practice that is necessary to reach excellence with regularity.
Why does the pleasure of attaining perfection in any sport require winning — dominating a competitor — in order to give it meaning?
An Internet tennis blog, Essential Tennis, ran a series on the mental aspect of the game for players who choke in competition. These players experience a loss of self-respect when a player they consider inferior defeats them, even dominates them.
I felt that fear in club tennis tournaments or in squash racquets tournaments for seniors. However, I’ve conquered that inane attitude in which the feeling of losing is worse than the pleasure of winning. Now, when I play tennis singles we start each point with a serve and play it competitively but we don’t keep score. Each point is a match in itself, and the next serve starts a new match. I serve as long as I want and then the other player does. Without the fear of losing, strokes and footwork flow smoothly, gracefully, effortlessly. What a pleasure it is to engage in sport simply enjoying the grace, speed, balance, and coordination of movement.
This can be done in golf as well, keeping score to measure my progress at breaking 80; but doing so by myself, without a competitor.
Engaging in sport without competition unleashes my tempo and my power. Why ruin it for a victory or a defeat when it is meaningless at my amateur level?
Not everyone agrees. Mike Rapisarda, the head pro Rye Golf Club, said after reading an earlier draft of this essay, “Competition is always against yourself no matter whom you play.”
Competition may be valuable for children. Instead of being taught that there are no winners or losers, that everyone who participates is a winner, perhaps they should learn that winning is to be accepted gracefully and that there is even value in losing.
There may be no answer to the question of whether competition is necessary to sport, but I have found what’s right for me, what makes me happy. I refuse to compete. “You got a problem with that?”